PROJECT LEADER(S): David L. Nash, Extension Agent – Coastal Management, New Hanover County, NC
Sea oats and other dune stabilization plants are needed to build and stabilize coastal dunes in North Carolina. The dunes provide coastal communities with infrastructure and property protection during hurricanes. Also, the dunes are a unique ecosystem that provides habitat for birds and animals while providing natural beauty enjoyed by residents and visitors. Estuaries are another important feature of the North Carolina coast. Native species are needed for erosion control and to provide buffers to protect water quality. Developing a coastal plant industry in the state is needed to supply estuary and dune species to coastal communities and property owners.
North Carolina farmers have been introduced to opportunities associated with commercial production of dune and wetland species. Research, education, production trials, and marketing efforts continue to be needed to support this growing industry.
Research was conducted on both dune and estuary plants in 2003. Sea oat plots were established at the Castle Hayne Research Station, and clones from the Wrightsville Beach plots were taken to NCSU for further examination. Both NCSU and LSU scientists are participating in this work. Dune and estuary plant production research was conducted at the Oak Island greenhouse to develop and improve production methods.
Educational efforts reached coastal property owners, elected officials, government employees and youth about the importance of dune and estuary plants for stabilization and erosion control. Farmers learned production techniques and species information.
Production trials with the Town of Oak Island and a Brunswick County grower resulted in improved fertility management, better control of diseases and comparisons of growing media. Both demonstration and replicated trials were conducted to learn BMP’s for dune and estuary plant production.
Production of the threatened species, Amaranthus pumilus, was improved at Oak Island, and plants were grown for the USF&W in Charleston, SC to reestablish this species along the SC coast. Seabeach Amaranth plants were also grown for NCSU Botany Department research on Bird Island, NC.
Marketing efforts focused on educating coastal municipalities and residents about the plants needed to stabilize dunes and control erosion. The need for native, indigenous species was emphasized, and contact information for NC growers was provided.
The Dune & Estuary Plant Production Project positively impacted coastal municipalities, coastal property owners, youth, farmers, and coastal advocate groups. New research on estuary plant species resulted in float system production of Spartina alterniflora, Spartina cynoseroides, Spartina patens, and Borrichia frutescens. Approximately 1000 plants were grown at the Oak Island greenhouse and planted along the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway to combat erosion. The value of the plants was estimated at $700. This research has resulted in interest by local farmers who intend to commercially produce these plants in 2004. Research, education, and greenhouse trials at Oak Island continue to yield positive results to conserve and protect North Carolina’s coast. The Town of Oak Island saved approximately $250,000 in 2003 by growing sea oats, bitter panicum, seashore elder, and other dune species to build and stabilize coastal dunes.
In Brunswick County, 67% of the property tax base is generated by coastal communities. Protection of this infrastructure by developing and maintaining a healthy dune ecosystem is critical to the welfare of the county and local municipalities. Dune plant production plays a key role in conservation of the dune ecosystem. North Carolina farmers provided more than 120,000 dune plants for two major beach renourishment projects in Brunswick and Carteret Counties.
The information learned at Oak Island was transferred to farmers growing sea oats, bitter panicum and other dune species at the first ever Dune Plant Production meeting held at the New Hanover County Cooperative Extension Center. Evaluations from the meeting were very positive, and farmers indicated the continual need for this type of Extension program.
The role of education for coastal residents and municipalities cannot be over-emphasized. Through Extension programs, workshops, presentations, and meetings, more than 600 individuals learned about the role native plant species play in coastal ecosystem conservation and protection.
The impacts of hurricane Isabel resulted in major damage to the dune ecosystem in Dare County. North Carolina dune plant growers are benefiting from the demand for plants to restore the dune system. More than a million dune plants will be needed to restore the dune ecosystem there, and most specifications require the use of indigenous NC plant material. This specification for NC plant material is a direct result of the work from this project.
Tourism is expected to soon become the number one industry in North Carolina, and the coast is the number one tourist destination. Conserving and protection this environment through research, education, and marketing of dune and estuary species is vital to state, county, and local economies.
Listed below are programs conducted in 2003 that were in part made possible by funds provided by the Specialty Crops Grant:
The demand for information and production of dune and estuary plants to control coastal erosion is strong. Tax dollars and tourism revenues are dependent on a healthy dune and estuary ecosystem. Through education and marketing efforts, municipalities and property owners in North Carolina have been made aware of the role of native plants and their availability from NC farmers. These farmers need continuing assistance to develop and improve the production and marketing of dune and estuary plant species.
Updated February, 2005